Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Editorial: Don't follow Arizona on immigration
Virginia should heed the Supreme Court's ruling that immigration enforcement is a federal matter.
From the RoundTable blog
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On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned three out of four parts of Arizona's immigration enforcement law.
Any other year, it would have been a blockbuster decision. This year, it pales in comparison to the much-anticipated ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Nevertheless, Americans, especially lawmakers in Virginia, should take a moment to note the outcome.
The justices split 5-3 with Justice Elena Kagan recusing herself. Chief Justice John Roberts broke from his fellow conservatives in joining the majority.
They ruled that Arizona erred on three points. States may not make it a state crime for undocumented aliens to apply for and hold a job. They may not empower police to arrest people without a warrant on suspicion of being in the country illegally. And they may not require all immigrants to carry immigration registration papers.
Only one challenged provision of the law withstood scrutiny. States may require police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain if they suspect the person is in the country illegally. This was the odious "show me your papers" provision that received so much attention when Arizona passed the law. The court warned, however, that it could become ripe for other constitutional challenges once implemented by Arizona.
The strangest element of Tuesday's decision was Justice Antonin Scalia's foray into politics. He slammed President Obama's immigration enforcement, including his decision to enact elements of the DREAM Act by executive order. Obama's actions were legally irrelevant to the case, but Scalia never shies from playing judicial activist. Things became absurd when he speculated that states would not have joined the union at its founding if the court's ruling on immigration this week had been explicit in the constitution back then.
The lesson for states like Virginia, where local and state lawmakers have shown more than a passing interest in adopting their own anti-immigrant laws, is clear: Don't. The immigration status of people within the country is a federal matter not amenable to a patchwork of 50 different sets of state laws.
As for the one part the court did uphold for now, even if it does not violate the constitution, it is poor policy. Lawmakers in Virginia should not follow Arizona in subjecting residents to immigration checks conducted based on snap-judgments by law enforcement that someone might not be in the country legally. That is a route toward racial profiling and inconsistent application of the law.